The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Centre, the Uttar Pradesh government and its police chief on a plea made by the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) for the release of its secretary Siddique Kappan .
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde scheduled a hearing on November 20 after the KUWJ’s lawyer, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, pressed for bail.
Chief Justice Bobde said the Bench would like to hear the State.
Mr. Sibal said the journalist was detained along with some others on October 5 while on their way to Hathras in Uttar Pradesh, where a Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped by four men. An FIR had been registered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in the case. Mr. Kappan is lodged in the Mathura jail, the KUWJ noted.
“But the FIR does not have his name in it. There is no reference of an offence against him. But he is in jail since October 5. The magistrate says go to jail. The jail authorities say go to the magistrate... My Lord, this man is a journalist”, Mr. Sibal submitted.
But the CJI referred to the last hearing when Mr. Sibal was advised to approach the Allahabad High Court for the journalist's freedom.
“But I am not able to meet this gentleman... I have no access to him. He is in jail”, Mr. Sibal replied.
Petitions under Article 32
Chief Justice Bobde, while asking how then he moved the apex court, said the reason for advising the KUWJ to approach the High Court was because it was “trying to discourage petitions under Article 32”.
Mr. Sibal replied, “But you [Supreme Court] have interfered in such Article 32 petitions in the past...”
Chief Justice Bobde said, “We are aware of our powers under Article 32”.
Mr. Sibal persisted, “I would not have tried to come straight to you under Article 32, but this is the case of a journalist... We want bail”.
He also pushed for an immediate stay order against the State, but did not succeed.
An application filed by the KUWJ has sought the fulfilment of Mr. Kappan’s basic rights such as legal help and access to family.
Habeas corpus plea
The KUWJ had approached the Supreme Court on a habeas corpus plea to know the whereabouts of Mr. Kappan. But the court refused to intervene while advising the union to move the Allahabad High Court instead.
The union said the FIR registered in the case related to speech on certain websites. But it said the URL and names of the alleged offending websites were not specified.
The KUWJ application said the source of the information as to these websites was stated to be “news published in some media reports in different mediums”. It stated that the “FIR is completely frivolous and does not disclose the commission of any offence”.
It further said, “Media is the breath of democracy. For a media professional there is no fixed time-table, no planning, no weekly off. There is a need to travel anywhere at any time by any means focussing on the news to cover, be it flood or act of terror or crime or political developments, even risking their lives... The arbitrary arrest seriously affect the work of journalists and seriously prejudice the right of people to get news”.